Although it is January, and Christmas is now but a memory, I simply could not resist posting my favorite Christmas cookie which is forever tied to fond memories of baking with my Grandma Gigi for the Christmas holiday, Russian Teacakes.
Distinctly, I remember the first Christmas when I was finally old enough to help my grandmother bake cookies for Christmas. It involved staying overnight for the weekend during the second week in December and my recollection of these precious years when I baked with her was purely magical.
Together, we baked all day through the weekend and turned out batch after batch of Butterplätzchen (Rolled German Butter Cookie Cutouts) cut into animal shapes and sprinkled with colorful “Jimmies” to hang on the Christmas tree. We also baked Russian Teacakes, Pecan Crescents, Jam Thumbprint Cookies, Butter Pecan Icebox Cookies, Spritz Cookies using her old-fashioned cookie press and Gingerbread Cookies as well as German Sour Cream Coffeecake with the most spectacular buttery brown sugar nut streusel known to man. I swear, no other streusel compares!
Grandma Gigi also baked a nut torte (a boozy, nutty layer cake) and a special kuchen (cake) which was actually a bar cookie consisting of a rich shortbread crust, strawberry or raspberry jam filling and unique meringue topping. And, I had the privilege (read: important duty) of helping my grandmother soak her fruitcake by drizzling it with rum. She had always baked the cake in October, but she would explain that the cake had to “cure”, “age” or “ripen”. I was fascinated by this and can still remember the enchanted scents of spices, sugared fruits and rum from that mysterious cake tin tucked away into a low cupboard in her kitchen.
My Grandma Gigi talked with pride when telling us the history of the recipes she handed down to my sister and I. Some came from my Papa’s mother and some from my grandmother’s mother. She explained that the recipes from her side of the family came from a professional baker who baked for royalty “in the old country” as she would say. Of course, there is no way of knowing this for sure. It all sounds so fantastical. However, most of the recipes handed down in our family have never been found in print, cookbooks or magazines. And, believe me, we have looked!
This traditional German-Hungarian recipe for Russian Teacakes was handed down from my Great-Grandmother Mitzi and I am proud to share my gluten free version as well—which is quite stupendous, if I do say so myself. When The Big Lug sampled these scrumptious cookies, he could not believe that they were my gluten free version. That is saying a lot because he is quite the cookie connoisseur!
Just what is it about Russian Teacakes that make them so special? I have pondered this quite often over the years whenever I bake them. Are they special because they are delectable buttery, nutty, round shortbread cookies? Or, do we love them so because they are covered in confectioners’ sugar and remind us of snowballs and playing in the snow as children? Or, is it the nostalgia attached to the experiences in baking with a beloved family member, like a grandmother or special aunt? For me, it is all of the above.
However, I must say that the taste and experience of munching on these special shortbread cookies dusted in sugar, like a Pixie Elf’s Fairy Dust, is intrinsically tied to the memory of baking with my Grandma Gigi and all the anticipation, excitement and childhood wonder of the coming Christmas holiday. Each time I munch on a Russian Teacake, I am reminded of my Grandma Gigi and her beautiful Christmas tree covered in Butterplätzchen and how they were shared with the mailman, the paper boy or anyone who came to the door in late December. My mother carried on a similar tradition as each person who came to our door was treated with a candy cane from our family Christmas tree.
What makes our Russian Teacakes wicked good? First, our recipe calls for all butter and granulated sugar which is superior to recipes using confectioners’ sugar which contains cornstarch thus making the shortbread cookie too dry. (Ever cough from those cookies due to those dry, crumbly cookies dusted in sugar when the “dust” goes down your wind pipe?) Using all butter and granulated sugar, with ample pure vanilla extract, ensures an especially buttery and tasty Russian Teacake.
Second, our recipe calls for walnuts which are not as dry as pecans can be. In addition, our recipe calls for 2 entire cups of finely chopped walnuts—not a mere ¾ cup of nuts like most recipes such as the one found in the iconic Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book. Finally, the size of the teacakes, the oven temperature and bake time ensures a superior Russian Teacake. We hope that our recipe becomes a new Christmas tradition for your family.
Here’s to special childhood Christmas memories, family traditions and spectacular Russian Teacakes!
- Gluten Free Flour Blend for Teacake Cookies
- ½ cup (64 grams) millet flour or sorghum flour, or blend of both
- 6 tablespoons (48 grams) arrowroot starch
- 6 tablespoons (48 grams) tapioca flour
- 5 tablespoons (50 grams) sweet white rice flour
- 4 tablespoons (28 grams) almond meal/flour
- 1½ tablespoons (15 grams) potato starch
- 1½ teaspoons xanthan gum
- Flour for Traditional Teacake Cookies
- 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
- 5 tablespoons organic granulated cane sugar, or granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups (230 grams) finely chopped walnuts
- 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, for dusting cookies twice
TipsThe dough balls will seem very small, but don’t worry. The cookies puff while they bake. These cookies freeze especially well. To freeze, place in an airtight container separating the layers with sheets of wax paper. To freshen frozen cookies, roll them or dust them with additional confectioners’ sugar after thawing. Recipe Source: WickedGoodKitchen.com Copyright © Wicked Good Kitchen. All content and images are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words. Alternatively, link back to this post for the recipe.